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Why BitTorrent is loving the US (and not loving the rest of the world)

Contracts my dear boy, contracts

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One of the key benefits for BitTorrrent users around the world, was the parity that it achieved in bringing US content to a global audience, albeit mostly in pirated works. Now the new legal BitTorrent service, launched with fanfare this week, received an almost unanimous thumbs down for being unoriginal and unexciting, and that key benefit has been at least temporarily removed.

The new BitTorrent online film download service system is built so that global distribution is an option, but like Apple’s iTunes and Amazon’s Unbox Video, almost none of the content is available outside the US.

This has to change, but will it? Content companies everywhere begin life with the full rights to their content, but in the movie world, at least, end up selling overseas rights to established partners for the established channels of theater and DVD distribution. These contracts could and should be trimmed for online because online is so much more attractive when a service can reach out from a single point to the entire globe, especially when this doesn’t carry with it the penalty of paying for lots and lots of servers, because it is built around a P2P distribution network.

The result right now is that even films that have originated outside of the US, are not available in their country of origin online.

That aside we now have the second major that has emerged from the world of piracy, with Napster spending the past few years trying to manage the trick of converting the brand that was built during a time of piracy into a brand that is popular among legal users. In Napster’s case this has created a moderately successful business in music, and in BitTorrent, on this showing, it is likely to achieve much the same, and pundits are refusing to expect it to sweep the market for video file downloads.

But in establishing a catalog of 5,000 films the upstart start up has done exceptionally well, including releases from 20th Century Fox, Lions Gate, all the Viacom cluster including Paramount and MTV, Warner Brothers and the Sony held MGM, and its business model of renting film but selling downloads to own for other categories, as well as publishing and sharing their video content, seems to be the most attractive it could offer the US market. The service is called the BitTorrent Entertainment Network (BEN for short).

"The BitTorrent Entertainment Network is created by and for the Bit- Torrent Generation, which has a vast appetite for high-quality, ondemand entertainment," said Ashwin Navin, President and Cofounder of BitTorrent. "BitTorrent.com engages our community to contribute in profound ways - whether it's by evangelizing their favorite titles; by submitting content they've created; or by contributing their bandwidth to enable faster downloads and an improved entertainment experience. Our uniqueness lies in the strength of our community, delivery technology, and the industry's most comprehensive catalog of digital content."

BitTorrent is also offering some TV shows, PC games and music content, some free content to entice users to the site in the first place and around 40 hours of high-definition programming. Pricing for movie rentals is $3.99 for new releases and $2.99 for catalog titles, and TV shows and music videos are download-to-own at $1.99 each.

The company claims to begin life with 135 million existing clients, but they will find, that like Napster most of them will move on to the next piracy phenomena, which lately is looking more and more like YouTube.

BitTorrent the company was formed partly by the author of the Bit- Torrent software, Bram Cohen, with venture capital from Accel and Doll Capital Management.

Copyright © 2007, Faultline

Faultline is published by Rethink Research, a London-based publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter is an assessment of the impact of the week's events in the world of digital media. Faultline is where media meets technology. Subscription details here.

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